What does it mean to be grateful? What does gratitude feel like? How do you connect the word grateful to a feeling and even a state of being? There is a lot of talk during the holiday season about gratitude. We’re told to be grateful for small things, for the love we have in our lives, for our health, for a sunrise or sunset; etc. How do we connect to this grateful feeling? Most people are bogged down with stresses and tensions, so gratitude for the small things feels fleeting and it is not something we feel as connected to emotionally as we think we should be. People know what they want to feel, and they feel disappointed or ashamed or guilty when they don’t feel whatever it is gratitude is supposed to feel like. This, of course, then contributes to the persistent feelings of inadequacy. Today, and going forward you have the capacity to change this.
Gratitude starts as an awareness, (in the moment or after the fact) that something feels (or felt) good to you. Maybe you felt it when you were snuggling under the covers in your warm bed on a cold winter morning. Perhaps you were sitting in front of a crackling fire while snow was falling outside. You might have been sitting on a beautiful beach watching the turquoise water lap the shore. You might feel good curled up on the couch reading a book. Do you remember a truly magnificent meal? Any of these moments might evoke feelings within you that are warm, comforting, relaxing or joyful. These moments are ones that you might feel grateful for when you stop and remember them, or relate them to a friend. Stop for a moment and allow yourself to reflect on a moment that you really enjoyed. Allow yourself to go back to that moment in time when, if only for that moment, you were completely and fully there. Bring in each of your senses: breathe in the smell of that moment, taste the moment, see where you were, feel the warmth flow through your body. Can you taste it? Just sit and connect to that time and place. Relive that time. Connect to how good it felt, and notice where in your body you feel the feelings most strongly. Breathe into that space and let the feeling grow. Breathe slowly and deeply just focusing on that special moment. Part of what made that moment special (even if you didn‘t know it then) was that nothing else existed in that moment. You were totally present. Now that you have brought that moment back to life, write it down. Putting it down on paper validates it and makes the memory readily accessible when you need to connect to your own feelings of gratitude. There are times when we all need these reminders!
One of the most common things that happen in life is that these good moments are so fleeting. Our thoughts, demands placed on us, or problems interfere with us “holding onto the moment”. Maybe the phone rings, or someone says something that “spoils” the moment, or you look at your watch and realize you have somewhere else to be, or a negative thought or worry pops into your head, etc. This list is practically endless. However, just because these distractions have made you “lose” the moment in the past, this no longer has to be your reality. Our lives are made up of moments and each one is real and valid on its own. We often string them together in our minds even allowing one event to eliminate or eclipse another. How many times have you either heard or said after you had a wonderful day when you or your children or partner who were now tired or cranky: “You’re going to spoil the whole day”? NO! Those moments do not negate the day unless you choose to allow it! The day was still wonderful! Sit and remember all the beautiful, fun, enjoyable, exciting times you had throughout the course of the day, and STOP! BREATHE! FOCUS! What is my desired outcome? The rest of the day was great, and I can choose to honor it and remember it. This (fill in the negative behavior) does not redefine the day prior to this moment. I still have the other events, activities, interactions etc. to hold on to. How do I want to deal with this moment? Then take a deep breath and feel what happens inside of you as your system shifts gears. You have just moved from automatic pilot to conscious, purposeful thought and action. (This now also becomes a moment you can feel grateful for as you acknowledge that you are proud of yourself.)
Now that you’re becoming aware of what gratitude feels like, your system starts to recognize and become aware of these moments as they are happening. There are some things that you can do to enhance your awareness and experiences.
1. Acknowledge that your desired outcome is to be open to feeling gratitude. This sets your intention for each day, and as you live more consciously, your awareness of gratitude increases.
2. Take a slow deep breath prior to each activity, and during each new activity: This will help you to connect more consciously to your feelings and awareness, thus increasing your awareness of feelings of gratefulness, and you will be aware of it as it happens.
3. At the end of each day write down five (5) things for which you are grateful for that day. These five things, when you stop and think about them, you will remember how you felt about it; good, or happy or relaxed or content or silly or pleased, etc. I think you get the idea. These things can be anything at all from the sublime to the ridiculous. Some days may have been really stressful or painful, maybe you’ll find appreciation and gratitude in that you made it through the day and are now in bed for the night. It might be as simple as a warm shower, or clean sheets on your bed, or that you’re aware and grateful that you actually functioned through the day. Maybe when you stop and think about what you’re grateful for, you’ll remember that you saw the colors of the sunset and they were beautiful. This activity helps you focus on and feel connected to those moments in a very real and meaningful way.
4. Share the Moment as it Happens!! Say out loud when you feel grateful. Tell whomever you are with what you are grateful for at that moment. This makes the moment very real, and “a joy shared is a joy doubled” (old proverb)
5. Ask your friends and family members what they are grateful for. This can be a good conversation to have and it moves you away from the usual complaining, negative conversations. Think about how different conversations would be if we were focusing on the good, uplifting happy moments instead of just the usual negative or complaining conversations. You might even laugh a little more and that could also be something you would feel grateful for!